Media Coverage

(1) Duo use the power of song to help with healing ……/140819939
Aug 15, 2014 – Duo use the power of song to help with healing. Debbie Nordeen, right, and Ruthie Rosauer are facilitators of Side By Side Singing.

Hendersonville Times-News
Article about Side by Side
August 15, 2014

Duo use the power of song to help with healing

By Gina Malone
Times-News correspondent

For those who have lost pieces of their past or had their voices diminished by disease, making “joyful noises” may be beneficial. That’s what Ruthie Rosauer and Debbie Nordeen, facilitators of Side By Side Singing, believe.
This new group-singing initiative sponsored by the N.C. Center for Health and Wellness has held two programs in Asheville, and will hold its first six-week program in Hendersonville starting Wednesday, Aug. 20.
Nordeen and Rosauer call their singing sessions “soul food for the brain.” Nordeen majored in music education, and has taught voice, directed choirs and performed in musical theatre for the last 25 years. She is the artistic director for Womansong of Asheville, a women’s community chorus. She began researching singing programs for those with cognitive challenges in 2012 after hearing about a choir made up of Parkinson’s patients.
“I decided I’d like to be a part of a movement to create positive experiences for our aging population,” Nordeen said, “and to help reduce social stigma for those living with cognitive disorders. With my background as a choral director, I naturally couldn’t think of anything more powerful than singing together, because singing takes place in the now. Music is magical that way.”
Retired from careers as an editor, economist and attorney, Rosauer says music is not just about making beautiful sounds.
“It can have therapeutic value,” she said.

She plays clarinet with the Hendersonville Community Band and sings with Womansong. Her volunteer time with a musical therapist in a hospital setting led to an interest in how singing might help people with short-term memory loss, such as that which can occur with dementia, Alzheimer’s and brain injuries. Since then she has done research on the many ways singing is beneficial to everyone’s health.
Just about anyone can sing, Rosauer said, though many think they cannot. Studies show benefits such as the increase of antibodies and the anti-stress hormone hydrocortisone, decreased instances of depression, slowed heart rates and feelings of relaxation.
For those with dementia, additional benefits include short-term memory improvement, increased positive moods and improved sociability. And, because participants in these sessions are required to be accompanied by a care partner, Rosauer has been delighted by the unexpected joy many of those caregivers express at singing “side by side” with their loved one.
One caregiver said, “This experience has been something new that we can share together as a couple, and that means the world to me.” Another said that a loved one who had not spoken much in the days before the singing session “sang every word in every song.”
Sessions in Hendersonville will be open to another group of participants — those with Parkinson’s disease. One effect of Parkinson’s may be a stiffening of vocal chords. As a result, “voices get soft, speech gets slurred,” Rosauer said, and tones may become flattened. Studies suggest that singing helps with volume, pitch, diction, vocal speed and posture.
As Rosauer puts it, “Deliberate variation of dynamic range will be incorporated … to help those with Parkinson’s improve their vocal control.”
Vocal warm-ups and musical ice-breakers start each session. Lyrics are provided for the rounds and well-known songs that follow. The growing song list contains ones that participants most likely heard while in their teens and 20s.
“These are the songs they resonate with,” Rosauer said. There are familiar popular tunes such as “As Time Goes By” and “Embraceable You,” as well as hymns and folk and patriotic songs.
The singing lasts about an hour, Rosauer said, though often calls for “just one more” cause things to run over a bit. At the end, “while they’re all feeling good and positive,” she said, they hold a social time with refreshments for about 20 minutes.
Rosauer said that “over a dozen volunteers … have helped make Side by Side the delightful experience it is,” not only by helping with tasks such as sign-ins and handing out music, “but just as importantly by adding their voices to the singing.”
“The results have been amazing,” Nordeen said. “Many participants have remarked that Side By Side Singing is a high point in their week.” She and Rosauer are now working on a how-to guide for people wishing to start singing groups in their areas.
Sessions in Asheville generally drew 45 to 50 people. The sanctuary at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hendersonville will hold many more if necessary. “The Unitarian congregation has been unbelievable,” Rosauer said, providing not only space but extra volunteers and refreshments.
Weekly sessions, lasting from 1:30 p.m. until 3 p.m., are free and require no pre-registration. They will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at 2021 Kanuga Road. Parking is free and the sanctuary is wheelchair-accessible.
No singing experience or music-reading ability is required. Participants must be accompanied by a care partner.
For more information, contact Ruthie Rosauer at 715-797-2260, or visit

Asheville Citizen-Times by Barbara Blake
March 31, 2014
“Singing Event for Dementia Patients Starts Wednesday”
ASHEVILLE – The lilting melody of a timeless song or a winsome lyric from the distant past can reach deep into the fragile mind of a person with dementia, bringing a sense of peace and joy if only for a few brief moments.
That truth was evident last November when Asheville’s Early Memory Loss Collaborative launched a pilot project called Side by Side Singing, in which those with mild to moderate cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s and their caregivers came together to sing once a week for four weeks.
The project was so successful it is being repeated and expanded to six weeks beginning Wednesday, sponsored by the North Carolina Center for Health and Wellness at UNC Asheville and held in the Sherrill Center on campus.
The sessions run 1-2:30 p.m. each Wednesday through May 7. All the gatherings are open to the public at no charge, and people may attend as many as they like.
“Several care partners (last year) said how animated and verbal their partners were after each session — feelings of happiness and well-being sometimes lingered for days,” said Ruthie Rosauer, who facilitates the events with Debbie Nordeen, longtime director of Asheville’s Womansong chorus.
“One of the care partners said, ‘My husband has not spoken much lately, but today, he sang every word in every song,’” Rosauer said.
Jane Sherman, founder of the Memory Loss Collaborative, said last year’s sessions drew 25 to 35 people each week for “singing that was joyful and enthusiastic.”
“Care partners reported that their spouses engaged in the singing in ways that surprised and touched them deeply,” Sherman said. “We are thrilled that this program has been funded to begin again this spring.”
Singing can often stimulate verbal and social skills for those with dementia, allowing them to regain “a positive feeling of competency and connection with others,” Nordeen said.
“Singing together enhances quality of life on many levels,” she said, “and this positive initiative is also part of an effort to reduce the stigma associated with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment through the communal experience of creating something beautiful in the present moment.”
Each session will begin with musical ice-breakers and vocal warm-ups, followed by singing of rounds and well-known songs. Simple harmonies will be taught, and there will be opportunities for participants to sing solos and play rhythm instruments.
Each song will be chosen for its potential to promote feelings of happiness, said Rosauer, who is co-author of a book about community singing entitled “Singing Meditation: Together in Sound and Silence.”
Jan Mallindine, who was caregiver for her mother until her recent death from Alzheimer’s, volunteered at last fall’s singing events and will return for the spring sessions. Her mother was too ill to attend, but Mallindine saw firsthand the benefits singing offered her mother earlier in her journey with dementia.
“I used to bring my mom to hear groups like Womansong, and it was like a new concert for her every week.” Mallindine said. “To be doing something as normal as singing with a group of friends is just uplifting for everybody. … Not only was it good for my mom, but it was a breath of relief as a caregiver for me.
“It was something we could do together, and I saw results in myself in terms of reducing my own stress and anxiety, because that’s what happens when you sing — you release these great endorphins,” she said. “And songs from way back in their memories will come back — that’s the point of Side by Side Singing, to keep that cognitive ability as active as possible.”

(3) Hendersonville Times – News April 4, 2015

Published: Saturday, April 4, 2015 at 4:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 3, 2015 at 6:04 p.m.

Side by Side Singing starts Friday

Calvary Episcopal Church in Fletcher will host Side by Side Singing for the spring, starting at 2 p.m. Friday at the church, 2840 Hendersonville Road, Fletcher.

Debbie Nordeen and Ruthie Rosauer will facilitate the class, which lasts for six weeks.

Studies show singing has many health benefits: it enhances brain function, elevates mood, strengthens vocal ability and improves the immune system. Those with short-term memory loss, living with Parkinson’s Disease and/or are interested in exploring song as a way to promote healthy aging are invited to participate.

Each session will begin with vocal warm-ups, followed by singing rounds and well-known songs. Singers will be led in exercises to improve their breathing and vocalization. Though not designed to be a demanding performance choir with specific choral parts, simple harmonies will be taught and those with a knack for singing harmonies will be encouraged to do so.

The repertoire will include well-known popular songs as well as introducing new songs and rounds. Opportunities will be provided for participants to sing solos and/or play rhythm instruments.

Each session will end with 20 minutes of socialization with light refreshments. Parking is free. The sanctuary is handicapped-accessible. Participants need not read music nor be an experienced singer to participate fully.

For more information, contact Ruthie Rosauer at or visit


(4) “Side by Side Singing connects patients, caregivers” in the Hendersonville Times-News on July 9, 2017, written by Sean Patrick Smith. – facebook – twitter –

“I don’t know what’s a-comin’ tomorrow, maybe it’s trouble and sorrow; but we’ll travel the road, sharing our load, Side by Side.”

The sentiment of this catchy classic American tune sums up the purpose and heart of the Side By Side Singing program.

Launched in 2013 by Debbie Nordeen and Ruthie Rosauer, Side By Side Singing began as a therapeutic sing-along for people afflicted with dementia, Parkinson’s disease and those recovering from stroke. It has now expanded to include anyone interested, including caregivers.

“This is for everyone, from people with various medical conditions to stay-at-home moms with kids,” said Nordeen of the free program. “We target folks who need more social interaction. Therapeutic singing is good for the brain and motor skills. This is for anybody to help infuse their life with the collective benefit of singing with others.”

Starting on Thursday, a series of weekly Side by Side Singing sessions will be offered from 2 to 3 p.m. each Thursday through Aug. 3. The series is hosted by Calvary Episcopal Church in Fletcher. No registration is required.


Warming up

Each Side By Side Singing session begins with vocal warmups. This includes facial stretches — especially beneficial for Parkinson’s and stroke patients. From there, 90 minutes of singing ensues, accompanyied by piano, guitar, drums, the clarinet or any other instrument on hand.

According to Nordeen, the Side by Side repertoire is “part of the American psyche.” Songs include such favorites as “Over the Rainbow,” “This Little Light of Mine,” “I Will Carry You,” and “Blue Skies.” “Side By Side” is also always sung, and each session ends with a rendition of “Happy Trails.”

Programs are held at various locations on different days and times to accommodate as many people as possible. “We decided early on that we did not want to meet at one place or be sponsored by one church,” said Rosauer. “Every time we meet somewhere else, people aren’t coming from other place…it’s just a geographic problem.”

The Unitarian Universalist congregations of Hendersonville and Asheville, UNC Asheville (sponsored by the North Carolina Center for Health and Wellness), Biltmore United Methodist Church and Calvary Episcopal Church have all hosted the singing program.


Caregivers join in

Side by Side offers opportunities to engage people with dementia or affected by stroke but can be just as a much of a boon for their caregivers.

“There is great stress among caregivers, who are experiencing their own grief and adjustment. Music often can bridge the gap,” said Nordeen. “It also provides an experience in the now. Singing familiar songs triggers something deep in the brain. With dementia, it is all happening in the now; it is successful bonding with the caregiver and patient. In that moment, they are having a stress-free, enjoyable moment as equal partners.”


The program is based in research on the health benefits of singing. Singing encourages healthy aging for all by increasing antibodies for the immune system. Benefits can include increased oxygenation in the blood and a boost in anti-stress hormones, as well as decreased depression.

For people with Parkinson’s disease, singing helps sustain the voice. “I discovered that 75 percent of Parkinson’s patients have impairment to their voices. Singing can help with strengthening the voice, with improved diction and volume,” said Rosauer.

For people with dementia, singing can foster positive moods and social interaction, while also easing anxiety.

Rosauer and Nordeen each discovered the therapeutic benefits of singing in a personal capacity. Retired from careers as an editor, economist and attorney, Rosauer had volunteered in a Wisconsin hospital where she accompanied the music therapist to sing with patients. Over six years, she witnessed the power singing held for patients with short-term memory loss, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and brain injuries.

“For these patients, with many of them in pain, the music was soothing,” said Rosauer. “Some patients had suffered strokes, and it was shocking and delightful and an incredible blessing when you hit on a song that they knew. They would start singing, even though they hadn’t been speaking because of the stroke. Their families were overjoyed.”

For Nordeen, her “aha” moment arrived as she was dealing with her mother’s onset of dementia. “I was seeking ways to communicate with my mother,” she said. Some of her friends in the Womansong singing group had spoken of singing as an effective mode of communication for those with dementia. Nordeen, who had pursued a music education career, approached Rosauer, a voice student of hers and fellow Womansong member, about starting a new program. Both women are also involved with the Fletcher Community Chorus.

“It was my destiny,” Nordeen said. “This program offers Ruthie and me, with our experience in music and working with groups, the opportunity to infuse people’s lives with music to uplift their spirits.”

Both women wish for a bright future for Side By Side. “I just want it to go on forever,” said Rosauer. “I wish we could do even more sessions and get more people involved. Transportation is the main barrier for people.”

Nordeen would also love for the program to grow. “I would like it to be a part of an ever-growing community music movement throughout America,” she said. “I would like to see singing accessible for people of all kinds of abilities, regardless of condition.

“Side by Side gives hope to people with medical conditions and their caregivers,” added Nordeen. “We want to instill that life is still worth living, to keep going and stay enthusiastic. The lyrics of the song ‘Side By Side’ is the central point. We are here for each other. We’ve got each other backs.”

(5) Bold Life magazine, July 2017 issue, written by Sarah Hart, entitled “Back to the Ball game”

Back to the Ballgame

by Sarah Hudson

Her husband hadn’t spoken much lately, not even to say hello, a participant told Debbie Nordeen following a session of Side by Side Singing, a community group geared toward those coping with cognitive impairments such as dementia, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s. Now, the woman said, since they had been attending the singing events together, she and her husband were sharing more verbal interaction, even in the days and weeks afterward.

“You could see it just in the way they were looking at each other,” says Nordeen. “Those smiles — with no pressure, no stress. I could just cry talking about it.”

That emotional uplift is the raison d’être for Side by Side Singing, which Nordeen founded with Ruthie Rosauer in 2013. Nordeen — a trained music educator who also leads Womansong of Asheville — saw how singing helped her mother, who suffers from dementia. “I wanted to create some activity that was not in a nursing home, and not about brain cells and blood pressure — something to lift the spirit of the person with dementia, but also the caregiver,” she says.

Rosauer had previously volunteered in Wisconsin bringing singing therapy to hospital patients, so when Nordeen reached out to her about launching the program, she enthusiastically signed on. “I had seen firsthand the dramatic changes singing can make for people,” Rosauer says. “There’s nothing like singing [the hymn] ‘Old Rugged Cross,’ and [the patient] starts singing every word. The family starts freaking out, laughing, crying. This woman hasn’t spoken in months, but you tap into a song and she can sing every word.”

As they developed the program, Nordeen and Rosauer — who both volunteer their efforts — researched the proven health benefits of singing. Just listening to music is certainly a mood booster, but actually singing can improve short-term memory in both Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. Later, they found studies on how singing aids those living with Parkinson’s— controlling volume, increasing vocal speed, varying pitch and expression — and so they widened Side by Side’s purview. Finally, realizing that such a myriad of benefits exist for all people, they designated Side by Side’s community as anyone and everyone, with emphasis on “healthy aging.”

Each session is self-contained and begins, as with any musical rehearsal, with a warm-up. Nordeen has designed several works toward the needs of those with Parkinson’s, without overemphasizing or calling attention to it. “Their perception is skewed because of brain and nerves,” she explains. “The don’t realize they are taking tiny steps or that their face is coming off like a mask. They have to make a conscious effort to be bigger.” So participants stretch their mouths back toward their ears, purse their lips forward, and so on.

Side by Side’s repertoire draws mainly from the Great American Songbook. “We make an effort to reach back, to get that long-term memory,” says Rosauer. “Things like ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart’ or ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ — those songs are deep in there.” Rosauer is particularly partial to “This Little Light of Mine,” which never fails to get everyone clapping and singing at full volume. Nordeen and Rosauer’s infectious energy inspires some minimal seat-based dance moves as well.

“I look around and every single person is singing,” describes Rosauer. “It’s not like a church service, where half the people are just moving their lips. There’s so much joy.”

The songbook varies from week to week — other favorites include Broadway hits like “My Favorite Things” or “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” — but always closes with “Happy Trails,” offering a familiar structure to each session. “Do they remember?” asks Nordeen. “Well, that was interesting to discover, and also seeing what happens when we do something new. We taught a simple song and a week later they caught on faster, and then faster the next week. Of course that’s anecdotal research, but we could see something happening.”

Whether the results are scientifically measurable or not, the benefits are clear. Says Rosauer, “When a wife comes up to me and says, ‘I felt like I had my husband back; I felt like we were sharing something as equals’ —well, I would do it anyway, but when people share those things, it’s wonderful.”

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